Tags: creative director
So, yes, it’s really happening. Me asking people I don’t really know to pose for me and imatiothiki. Barbara was one of them and I was more than thrilled to find her full of enthusiasm message in my inbox. We set up a date and there I was, after a full week’s work, all tired and dizzy in her small, yet very space efficient apartment in Dubai Marina. She and Nelson, her uber cute dog, made my day and in between tattoos, skulls, prints, 60s dresses and spikes on heels, I got to realise that this girl is full of energy, ideas and has a bright future ahead of her. Not because she is talented at what she does, but because she has the right attitude towards life: she is all smiles at whatever comes her way. So, here she is, in her apartment or wondering around her building’s common spaces, miss Barbara Zhuzhelina, who could just as easily be a model for a glossy magazine.
You were born in Bosnia… then traveled the world and the last decade you’ve been living in Dubai. How did all of this happen?
Well I was born during the Yugoslav war in 1990, so my family immigrated to Australia when I was very small. Neither of my parents spoke english at the time and so they had to study and learn english simultaneously in order to certify their degrees in Aus. My dad went into Safety Engineering and that’s kind of where all the travelling started…well eventually! He used to travel alone a lot around Asia and the Middle East for his job and eventually in 1999 we moved to Muscat, Oman! I remember what a culture shock that was! It was weird to suddenly be in a school with all these kids from all over the world! After 2 years in Oman we headed back to Aus for a year – with an extra sibling in tow! It was quite weird going back there, obviously it was nice to see family and friends again, but because I had been in an English School system in Oman, I was put up a year in my old school in Aus. All my friends were in the year below me then and everyone in my year was kind of starting to hit puberty and discovering the birds and bees and what not and I was still a baby. After Aus we moved to Saudi Arabia. It happened to be just after 9/11 and I remember so many people telling me that it was going to be so scary there – obviously they didn’t know much Saudi was great! My dad worked for Saudi Aramco so we lived on a massive compound which was practically a small city! We did a lot of travelling when we were there as we would have super long Summer holidays. We would travel to Europe a lot and rent a caravan and do amazing trips! I probably didn’t appreciate it as much then as I do now, but it’s always great to look back at the pictures and see all the crazy locations we have been to. Life in Saudi became unsafe at the beginning of 2005 so we made a move to Dubai! My dad decided to start up his own company and that pretty much solidified Dubai as our new home for the foreseeable future! With Dubai as our base, we continued doing our road trips around Europe and America over the summers and we covered over 30 countries! I was also very fortunate to travel a lot with my schools for educational trips to locations like Vietnam, Thailand, Russia and the UK. I love travelling and I can’t see myself ever staying in one place too long! After finishing high school I moved to Paris to study Fashion Design and Creation at the École supérieure des arts et techniques de la mode. Paris had been my dream since I was little! Art has always been my passion and I knew no matter what I did it would be something creative and would be studied in Paris! Living there was incredible and infinitely inspiring! I loved just exploring and walking home a different route every day to discover new amazing cafes/stores/museums/
Tell me a little bit about your work. Starting out as a fashion designer, you are now into photography, illustration and graphic design. Are there strict limits between all these fields, or do you jump effortlessly from one practice to the other?
I honestly never thought I would be a fashion designer, I was THE biggest tomboy till I was about 17 and I had discovered that boys could be a lot more than just friends! I think once puberty hit I didn’t properly wear a dress till I was about 18 – now they are all I ever wear! My parents always wanted me to study law or medicine but I was never great at learning and reciting facts, creativity came a lot more naturally to me. I knew I wanted to study something artistic but didn’t know what. Fashion was such a random choice, but once I started it I loved it. I am definitely not one of these super fashionistas who knows everything about everyone and to be honest when I started I knew very little about the fashion world. But fashion is everywhere and once I was learning about it constantly my interests massively picked up and suddenly I was finding inspiration from everywhere. I think that is probably why I excelled in design – my stuff was always different. I took inspiration from designers sure, but I always made it my own. To this day I hate when someone asks me to copy. I am not a creative person, put here to make creative things, to go and copy something that someone else spent ages thinking up! Yuck! Since leaving uni though I have kind of ended up in a lot of jobs where photography has been the focal point as opposed to fashion. Photography was something I picked up at about 15 in school and I used to love creating collages and art work from the photos I took, it got to the point where I ALWAYS carried a camera around with me (post the camera phone era) – actually no that’s a lie I did still up until last year, but then my camera got too big. I would take it everywhere! Parks, parties, clubs, galleries, uni…anywhere I was allowed to take photos! Everyone just got used to me being the girl with the camera. I didn’t necessarily upload them all…it was just fun to have it with me. You see the world from a different perspective when you look through a lens then when you for example draw it. I always liked having the two. When i lived in Paris I used to go on mini shoots with my friends all over the place, but when I got to Dubai it stopped a lot…then I started working as a photographer and it kind of lost its pull. Unless it was something creative I didn’t enjoy doing it as much. Illustration has just been something I have always done – my only problem is that I am so impatient so it takes me aaaaages to finish a piece! I get bored of them quite easily so I start and never finish, or I finish it after a few months. I have good months though, where I only draw. I need more of those. Graphics design has just sort of been something I have done for years. My dad got photoshop from a friend back when I was about 11 and so I started to use it and just never stopped learning. Adobe is my drug. I love playing and learning on their programs. Now I love doing it professionally. I love taking clients concepts and creating something visual that both they and I love. That’s one thing about all my work – I have to love it too. I won’t do something for the client to love, if I’m not crazy about it too – just seems like a waste of time otherwise. I find it really easy to jump from one to the next as they all help evolve each other. I worked as a production manager at a creative agency and that was amazing because I could go from one day being a stylist, to a photographer, to a artistic director, to having to cast a 30 person cast, to suddenly having to make an amazing set, or costume….they are all artistic elements that compliment each other and being able to do them all is massively rewarding for me and of course to my clients! My clients are amazing and I am always so thankful to the intense lengths they push me! I now freelance doing all of the above and more! it’s always a rush knowing that your work gets you to so many places and people trust you with their brands to do what you want.
Starting out your own business and going independent in Dubai was an easy thing to do? What would you advice someone who wishes to make a fresh business start?
JUST DO IT! The best way to learn is when you have no one but yourself to lean on for support! I was very blessed in the fact that I had made many amazing contacts through my previous jobs and so thus far I continue to strive business wise, but I am sure a time will come where I will struggle and will fall on hard times. But that’s life isn’t it? Nothing ever comes easy! If you are willing to work your ass off to make something of yourself then do it! There is nothing more rewarding than working loads and reaping all the benefits than working for someone else and helping them get somewhere. If you can do it for someone else why can’t you do it for yourself? My parents always used to tell me that till eventually it clicked and I listened! Working for myself is the best decision I ever made for sure, but I still continue to work with my old companies and I love them all. The opportunities and some of the jobs I have done for someone of only 23 I think people twice my age would kick themselves for the chance to do. Just work hard and be nice. There aren’t enough nice people in this world, so being nice is something I try to be all the time! (Although I was told off last week for being TOO nice!) Even if you don’t get a job from someone, at least make friends – you never know how many people that person may know, and if they say something bad about you that rep will get around. I never prejudge anyone even if people tell me ‘Oh don’t work with that person…they did this and this and this’ – they didn’t do that to me – sometimes sure, you get screwed over (everyone loves to take advantage of young’ens) but ya know, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger!
I see a lot of sculls in your illustrations. Do you have a main theme / idea you are working on and developing?
I LOVE SKULLS! I don’t know why, or how it started but they have just always been a massive inspiration for me. There’s probably some deep dark meaning behind it, but I find them incredibly beautiful. There’s a few ideas I have on at the moment but the skull illustrations were part of my first set of prints I was going to do for my Barbara Zhuzhelina line – which is still pending…laaa! This is my problem in life, I have too many ideas and not enough drive to do them. I could probably write a book on all the ideas I have, but even that would probably stop half way. HOW I get any work done is amazing haha. I am very good when it comes to client work though, I deliver stuff super fast. Maybe it’s just a me thing. See I am off topic now… There are two main things I am working on (in my mind) at the moment: – a creative platform, which i don’t really want to delve into incase someone steals the idea, because it’s pretty awesome! And also a personal blog, which I have been trying to start up for aaaages, which incorporates art and photography. I used to have a blog when I was 13…but we won’t talk about that
Where do your see yourself in 10 years from now?
Hmm…running an empire I hope. Not entirely sure doing what though. Lets see if one of my entrepreneurial ideas get me somewhere in life and I actually stick to JUST one! But otherwise, most probably married with at least 1 kid and definitely like 5 dogs.
Being creative in the Middle East is challenging to you? Do you find yourself holding back on ideas or things you want to put out there, because of the cultural differences?
It probably should be challenging..but I’m lucky that the people I work with are just as crazy and creative and love to push all the boundaries even if it means occasionally being a little risqué. Creativity is risqué. Sure there are certain things you can’t do in the Middle East – like these crazy artists that paint with their naughty bits. There’s cultural differences sure, but you just go with it, and sometimes even take inspiration from them.
What does your typical day look like?
I don’t really have a typical day! Every day is different depending on what work I have on. It can go from days of me lazing about with my dog, to days of not sleeping and just sitting at my computer editing,drawing,designing…or sitting at my sewing machine. Or painting sets…or running around collecting props and clothes for shoots…driving around Dubai to meet people…model castings….location scouting….but I try and be lazy as much as possible
Let’s talk about fashion. Your style is influenced by prints, pin up girls and gothic shoes. What would be your inspiration?
Oh I honestly don’t know! I dress for how I feel that day! I love dresses and very rarely wear trousers – unless they are highwaisted and super skinny! I like to be girly with a little bit of edge. My style constantly changes but I think I always stick to dresses of sorts…one day I can be super super girly and colourful and the next I might be quite dark. I went through a faze of constantly wearing black (like everyone does), but then I decided that black looks good on everyone, it takes a bit more confidence to rock colour!
Can you recommend your favorite shopping spots in Dubai?
I hate shopping. I think Dubai has done that to me…I loved thrift shopping in Paris and searching for cool vintage pieces…but here the whole mall, over crowded, people trampling you experience just makes me not want to shop! If I had to choose I would probably say Zara. They have really upped their game the past few seasons – and it’s always easy to pull something for any occasion at an affordable price and pretty decent quality. West LA has some of my favourite Australian brands – I love their chilled vibe.
Nelson, your dog, has to be one of the coolest and most relaxed small dogs I have ever met. How did you two meet?
NELSY! MY LOVE! Oh man I love that dog. Well my boyfriend and I looked after one of our friends dogs for almost a month over xmas break last year and when he left I realised I needed a full time little buddy to have around. So i started searching on all the shelter FB pages to find someone small enough for my flat. I came across this scruffy looking little guy who had his tongue stuck out whilst all the other dogs were sat there super chill and I knew he was the one!!! So I called them up and I went and saw him the next day. He was tiny and adorable and I needed him in my life! His description said he was 9 years old but when I met him he was jumping around so excited to meet me and with energy waaaaaay below his years! I was never a dog person but this little dude has stolen my heart big time. He’s probably the smartest dog ever and he’s so cute. I’m sure most people say that about their dogs, but Nels is something else! How anyone could have ever abandoned him is beyond me! I am already planning my summer so that he can come along too!!
A few comments on the things pictured above: Barbara’s dog is the cutest! Usually small dogs are all about setting boundaries and barking at you, but Nelson was more than friendly! / Her building’s security guy was thrilled to take part in our photo shoot. / A lot of her stuff is collected just for fun, or for dress ups due to impromptu costume parties. / Her hair has almost always been like this. It’s her signature look. / Apart from 60s inspired dresses, Barbara is really into tattoos. Tattoos and skulls. You can see that even on her cell phone decoration.